AFSCME battle to increase wages at taxpayer expense

The state’s largest government-worker union has no strike fund, but refuses to agree to a contract taxpayers can afford.

The union-backed arbitration bill failed, but Illinois’ largest government-worker union is still without a contract.

Now that House Bill 580 is out, the focus on the state’s negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees shifts to the impasse proceedings pending before the Illinois Labor Relations Board. Should that board determine that the two parties are at impasse, Gov. Bruce Rauner could implement his last offer to AFSCME – and AFSCME could go on strike.

Following the failure of HB 580, AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynchindicated that an AFSCME strike is a possibility: “If [Rauner] imposes those demands, public service workers will be forced to work under his terms or go out on strike.”

Since July 2015, AFSCME and the state have entered into three tolling agreements, which bound the union and the governor to continue negotiating in good faith until either a contract is reached or impasse occurs. According to the agreements, if the parties disagree on whether impasse, or stalemate, has been reached, either side could submit the issue to the Illinois Labor Relations Board.IPI160213asusual

Negotiations came to a halt in January, when AFSCME’s lead negotiator said to the governor’s representatives: “I have nothing else to say and am not interested in hearing what you have to say at this point – carry that message back to your principals.” Thereafter, Rauner asked the labor board to determine that the parties have reached impasse under the state’s labor laws.

What’s next

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Should the board agree that the parties are at an impasse, the governor could implement his last and best offer. AFSCME, in turn, could decide to strike. On the other hand, if the board concludes that the two sides have not reached impasse, negotiations will continue.

Despite the fact that AFSCME has no strike fund – and the average employee would lose$8,000 in salary and benefits for each month of a strike – Lynch’s comment indicates that she may direct AFSCME’s workers to go on strike should the board determine the parties are at impasse.

AFSCME’s refusal to consider contract provisions that could ease the financial burden on the state’s taxpayers stands in sharp contrast to at least 18 other unions that have already ratified contracts that bring labor costs more in line with what taxpayers can afford.

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For example, on May 17 the Illinois Federation of Teachers, representing educators at the Illinois School for the Deaf, ratified a collective bargaining agreement that includes provisions that will help address the state’s ongoing financial crisis, including a four-year temporary wage freeze, implementation of merit pay for conscientious workers, and changes to the state-provided health insurance program that allows employees to keep their current premiums, maintain their current coverage, or mix and match to best suit their needs.

The Teamsters reached an agreement with the state in August 2015. That agreement includes a four-year wage freeze, continuation of a 40-hour workweek, and the implementation of a bonus system for employees meeting or exceeding expectations.

Yet AFSCME has repeatedly rejected similar provisions, continuing to demand guaranteedfour-year wage increases, platinum-level health insurance coverage at little to no cost to union members, and a workweek that includes overtime for workers after 37.5 hours.

It could be months before there is final resolution on the question of an impasse and, therefore, before AFSCME could legally go on strike. Hearings before an administrative law judge, or ALJ, began in April and are scheduled through May 27. The parties will then submit post-hearing written arguments. Because the timetable will depend on the parties’ schedules, it could be four to eight weeks before the parties submit these final briefs – meaning, at the earliest, the parties will submit their briefs toward the end of June.

Once the ALJ has reviewed the record and the parties’ final written arguments, the ALJ will issue a decision. That decision will be binding on the parties unless one party appeals to the five-member panel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board. But the appeals process does not end with the board; the party disputing the board’s ultimate decision can then appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court, and then to the Illinois Supreme Court. Even if the state courts expedite the appeal, the appeals process would add weeks or months to the impasse timeline.

But the longer the timeline, and the longer AFSCME clings to its unreasonable demands, the easier it is to see that AFSCME stands apart from other unions in the state – and against the taxpayers. Other unions have recognized the state’s financial limitations. It’s time for AFSCME to do the same.

TAGS: AFSCME: American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees

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